The theme of this section is the authority of Jesus, which is questioned by the Jewish religious authority in Jerusalem for the first time in Mark. Here it is Sadducees, scribes, and experts in the law that attempt to trap Jesus into a mistake that would undermine his authority, ultimately they are not successful at this.
In Matthew the teaching in the temple sequence is expanded with to include three parables in the Olivet Discourse a climax of the condemnation of the pharisees. The Widow’s mite is missing, the challenges end with “paying taxes to Caesar.”
- Entry Into Jerusalem (Mt 21:1-11 / Mk 11:1-11)
- Cleansing of the Temple (Mt 21:12-16 / Mk 11:15-19)
- Cursing of the Fig Tree (My 21:17-22 / Mk. 11:12-14, 20-21)
- A Challenge to Jesus’ Authority (Mt 21:23-27 / Mk. 11:27-33)
- Mark 12:1, he began to teach them in parables, only one is recorded in Mark. Matthew includes three (typical of Matthew to record things in sets of three).
- The Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32)
- The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46 / Mark 12:1-12)
- The Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14 / Luke 14:15-24 (?))
- Paying Taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:15-22 / Mark 12:13-17)
The three parables have several themes in common. The central character is “a man” that represents God, first a father, then a landowner, and finally a king. In the first and last there is a contrast between those that respond properly to the will of the central character and those that do not. The parable increase in their pointed criticism of the Jewish religious leadership and their rejection of the will of God as first presented by John the Baptist and later in their messianic ministry of Jesus. There is a clear prediction in the parables that the Jews will kill Jesus and that the killing of Jesus will “seal their fate” and bring the judgment of God upon their heads, and even the city of Jerusalem.
The focus is therefore on the unfaithfulness of the Chief Priests, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and any other organized religion represented in the Temple of Jerusalem. The contrast to this rejection of Jesus is the faith and repentance of the under-class of Galilee and Judea. The “tax-collectors and prostitutes” have repented, the priests and scribes have not properly responded. Despite the fact that conventional wisdom would seem to be that the sinners would be on the outside of the kingdom and the Pharisees et al on the inside, Jesus reverses that thinking by having the unprepared Jews going last into the kingdom, or not at all!
This is the “shocking surprise” of these parables – those that are “in the kingdom” are not at all who were expected to be there, including those that make it inside!